Keys to the Game: WSOC vs. Minnesota

By Perri Kitei

After a tough overtime loss to Wisconsin on Thursday night, the Northwestern women’s soccer team looks to bounce back against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats currently sit in a precarious seventh place in the Big Ten, only one point above Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa. A win against Minnesota, meaning another three points, could be enough to push the ‘Cats into a tie with Michigan State for fifth place. Only the top eight teams make the Big Ten Tournament. This should be a competitive but very winnable game for Northwestern, especially given its dominance at home this season. Still, you can never feel too safe, so here are three keys to giving the ‘Cats an edge against the Golden Gophers: 

  1. Protect Mackenzie Wood

The Wildcats have started their last few games playing in a 2-5-3 formation, meaning two forwards, five midfielders and three defenders. However, the defense has a tendency to push forward, and oftentimes this leaves goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood vulnerable to attacks off fast breaks and long balls. Usually, the speed of Northwestern’s defenders allows the team to make plays on balls that get past them, but a few have slipped through the cracks, like the one goal Indiana scored to give the ‘Cats their first loss at home. The Hoosiers’ Megan Wampler was able to get a head on a long pass by Oliwia Wos off an awkward bounce and sneak the ball past the hands of Wood. 

Against Wisconsin on Thursday, Wood made a season-high seven saves off 18 shots, eight of which were on goal. The Badgers had 10 set-piece opportunities off corner kicks, indicating a majority of possession time spent in Wildcat territory and an inability for the ‘Cats to clear the ball to the sidelines or up the field. Against such a high volume of shots, a goalkeeper can only do so much; Northwestern’s biggest priority should be lowering that number, and protecting Wood.

  1. Create opportunities for high volume scorers

When playing competitive Big Ten teams like Wisconsin and Indiana, Northwestern needs to push the pace of play and create scoring opportunities. Against Indiana, the ‘Cats only had five shots, two on goal, and against Wisconsin, they had a mere two shots, none on goal. They also had zero corner kicks in over 90 minutes at Wisconsin. The Wildcats have seen a lot of success when they push the ball up the field and maintain possession in their opponent’s half. Every second spent on the opposing half of the field increases scoring potential. It also creates opportunities for corner kicks, like the nine they had in their win against Nebraska. The ‘Cats are only averaging 1.36 goals per game, which is not going to be enough if they want a shot at making the Big Ten playoffs. 

  1. Substitute often

Seventeen players have seen the field in at least 12 of the 14 total games Northwestern has played. The Wildcats have a lot of speed and a very deep roster that they should use to their advantage. Sending fresh legs into play and giving key players time to rest is what’s going to allow them to maintain that faster pace of play for longer periods of time. Constant substitutions have also allowed players like Ingrid Falls, who has only started five games, to notch two goals on the season. Coach Moynihan should definitely be keeping an eye out for players getting tired, and should not be afraid of taking risks when rotating players in and out of positions.